Art in America, December 2001
By Michael Duncan
Carlee Fernandez at Acuña-Hansen
In the age of Paul McCarthy and the Chapman brothers, art may seem to have lost the ability to shock. But Carlee Fernandez's manipulations of taxidermic animals stopped me in my gallery-going tracks. I wasn't quite prepared for Hugo Parlier (all works 2001), a freestanding, 5-foot-high gutted bust of a white rhinoceros impaled on a kitchen stepladder impeccably upholstered with rhino skin.
Appearing to be awry émigrés from the island of Dr. Moreau, Fernandez's sculptures amalgamate found trophy animals with ordinary households products and utensils. The resulting hybrids satirize our use of "lower" species as servants of mankind, questioning as well our long-ingrained assumptions of superiority. Fernandez-who uses only damaged or unclaimed animal skins obtained from a local shop-accentuates the grotesquerie of taxidermy to register disapproval of utilizing animals as mere bests of burden.
Most of the works play off our use of animals and their skins as vehicles or containers. Lola Isern, a placid, kneeling sheep, has a plastic laundry basket embedded in her back, the basket's mesh sides completely and neatly lined with fur. In Brent Albritton, the antlered head of a whitetail deer serves as a bucket, complete with pelt-covered handle. An ice tray replaces the spine of a small antelope in Courtney Payne. The works al feature a small label with the artist's last name rendered in the typeface used by Rubbermaid, the manufacturer of the incorporated domestic aids. Small Astro Turf discs are placed alongside the sculptures to suggest ersatz natural settings.
The off-putting nature of the work is mitigated by its extraordinary craftsmanship as well as by the uncanny appeal of taxidermy itself, a craft that inevitably evokes primal fears about death and the reanimation of the dead. Fernandez puts a surreal spin on the emotionally charged practice. Oddly, she titled the works with the names of estranged friends (indeed, the show was called "Friends"), emphasizing both the intimacy and the loss conjured by the animals. With roots firmly planted in both horror films and animal activism-and in a more deeply fascinating manner than the taxidermic stunts of Damien Hirst and Maurzio Cattelan-Fernandez's cringe-inducing art grapples with mankind's troubled relationship with animals.